Gazsi's roots run deep in Costa Mesa

NEWPORT BEACH – Tom Gazsi won't be making much of a move next month when he takes over as Costa Mesa's new police chief.

The 51-year-old law enforcement veteran will become the top cop in his hometown, yet he's worn the uniform of a police officer for neighboring Newport Beach for the past 32 years.

Gazsi has deep roots in Costa Mesa. He grew up on Paloma Drive, near the intersection of 20th Street and Irvine Avenue, and has lived his entire life in the Newport-Mesa area.

He began his career in law enforcement by working as a front desk clerk at the Newport Beach Police Department. Gazsi said he found his passion as a policeman early on, and has never lost it.

"I went down a path for having a heart for law enforcement," Gazsi said during an interview in his captain's office at NBPD headquarters near Fashion Island.

At age 20, he served as a reserve officer while attending Orange Coast College. The Newport Beach force hired him full-time after he graduated from USC. Gazsi is one of about seven members of his family in law enforcement.

He met his wife, Kimberly in the fall 1986, while walking his NBPD beat on Balboa Island.Gazsi spotted the woman he would marry and with whom he would have three daughters outside Dad's Donut & Bakery Shop.

"I saw this girl who had the prettiest blue eyes I've ever seen," he said, although he wanted to make clear it was a Diet Coke he bought at the bakery.

"Let me emphasize, I wasn't eating a doughnut," he added.

As he spoke, Gazsi showed acute attention to detail. He quickly recalled dates, names and addresses from memory going back decades.

Gazsi rose through the ranks, and has served as captain at NBPD since 2007.

Policing is one of his many passions. A glimpse around his office revealed a love of machinery.

A color sketch of a steam locomotive hangs near the desk of his sunny office.

Gazsi's passion for tinkering with machines began when he was exposed at a very young age his grandfather's machine shop in South Gate, which made aluminum pipe fittings.

At age 5, his love of trains became clear to those around him. That year, a Lionel train was waiting for him under the Christmas tree.

While working as a detective, he would continue to work six hours each week at O'Connor Engineering near John Wayne Airport, doing light machine work. On his own time, Gazsi has restored full-sized trains back into working order.

"The whole thing comes alive," he said. "It's a very humbling thing to keep something like that alive."

He has also consulted for work on Disneyland's Mark Twain Riverboat.

A spiritual calling has also been a major factor in Gazsi's life since early on. He was ordained as a minister in 2004 and has served as an elder for O.C. Harvest Church in Irvine.

After perestroika and glasnost, he and Kim travelled to Russia to hand out Bibles and medicine to people in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities. Gazsi also taught Christian ethics to various police precincts in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Some point to these qualities as things that make Gazsi a perfect candidate for chief of police in Costa Mesa, after the City Council approved a restructuring plan for the police department that entails proposed layoffs.

"I like to see things restored: hearts, lives, machinery," Gazsi said. "This is a hard time, but we're going to get through it."

He said he wants to bring a sense of stability to the Costa Mesa force, and that he hopes to learn from Costa Mesa police officers and listen to their concerns.

Those who know Gazsi believe he can deliver on Costa Mesa's hopes.

"Tom Hatch made a great choice," said Newport Beach Police Chief Jay Johnson. "Although he will be greatly missed in Newport Beach, we are very optimistic his selection will only further improve the close working relationship the NBPD shares with the CMPD. Speaking as his boss and for our organization, we could not be more proud of Tom."

Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff agreed with Johnson's assessment.

"Tom Gazsi is a professional, smart, thoughtful captain who has served Newport Beach and our P.D. very well," Kiff said in a statement Monday.

Gazsi is awaiting the results of a background check and medical exam before he can be sworn in as chief. He expects to join Costa Mesa's ranks around the end of August.

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